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Award winners - AZ Foundation & FWO/F.R.S.-FNRS


The AstraZeneca Foundation stimulates the debate on the importance of clinical research and by doing so, aims to create a framework in which scientific progress can benefit society. Together with the FWO and the F.R.S.-FNRS, the AstraZeneca Foundation annually awards Scientific Prizes to researchers who have carried out important work in a specific therapeutic field. This year, four Scientific Prizes, each of which is worth €25,000, are awarded for contributions in the fields of Cardiovascular/Metabolic Diseases, Oncology, Autoimmune diseases/Rheumatology and Neurosciences/Psychiatry.

The 2014 winners of these Scientific Awards are respectively Prof Dr. Aernout Luttun (KULeuven), Prof. Dr. Hans Wildiers (KULeuven), Prof. Dr. Mohamed Lamkanfi (VIB/Ghent University) and Prof. Dr. Laurent Nguyen (ULG). The four winners were chosen by an independent jury composed by the FWO and F.R.S.-FNRS.

Prof. Dr. Aernout Luttun

Prof. Dr. Aernout Luttun 

KU Leuven

Cardiovascular/Metabolic Diseases Award

25 000€

“Exploration and exploitation of endothelial diversity in macro- and microvascular beds”

Cardiovascular diseases are still one of the leading causes of death worldwide and healing or improving the quality of life is often not possible.

Prof. Dr. Aernout Luttun (associate Professor of medicine at the University of Leuven) and his team revealed that the single layer of cells, situated on the inside of tubular systems and called “endothelial cells”, show remarkable differences in their appearance, function and genetic make-up depending on where they are located in the vascular system. The understanding of the differences among endothelial cells in different organs and the mechanisms that determine them, may lead to the development of vascular bed-specific revascularisation therapies that are tailor-made to better resolve vascular deficits than the currently available general revascularisation approaches.

This ground-breaking research project on endothelial diversity in macro- and microvascular beds was rewarded with the AstraZeneca Foundation Award 2014 for Cardiovascular/Metabolic Diseases.

Professor Aernout Luttun

Prof. Dr. Hans Wildiers

Prof. Dr. Hans Wildiers 

KU Leuven

Oncology Award

25 000€

“Cancer in older individuals”

The field of cancer in older individuals, often referred to as ‘Geriatric Oncology’, is a relatively new, but very important domain since about 50% of cancer cases and two thirds of cancer deaths occur in patients of 65 years and older.

Prof. Dr. Hans Wildiers received the AstraZeneca Foundation Award 2014 for Oncology. He conducted several clinical studies on the interaction between (breast) cancer / chemotherapy and age, which showed that the elderly may be more sensitive to effects of chemotherapy than younger patients. His research also showed that geriatric screening and assessment in older cancer patients has a significant impact on the detection of unknown geriatric problems, leading to geriatric interventions and adapted treatment.

The laboratory in Leuven is currently performing extensive research on ‘biomarkers of ageing’. Chronological age does not reflect the ‘biological age’ well. Aging can also be measured in terms of biological changes in the blood compartment. These and other ‘ageing’ biomarkers might provide additional prognostic/predictive information besides clinical evaluation.

Thanks to the research, guidelines on clinical trial design and relevant clinical trial endpoints for older individuals and international guidelines on geriatric assessment – meant to be a guidance for oncologists worldwide – were established.

Professor Hans Wildiers

Prof. Dr. Mo Lamkanfi

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Lamkanfi

VIB / Ghent University

Autoimmune Diseases/Rheumatology Award

25 000€

“Negative regulation of the NLRP3 inflammasome by A20/TNFAIP3 protects against arthritis”

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Lamkanfi (VIB/Ghent University) has received the AstraZeneca Foundation Award 2014 for Autoimmune Diseases/Rheumatology for his ground-breaking research on the role of inflammasomes in the development or Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory disease that affects the joints and without treatment it evolves into a debilitating and painful condition that can severely affect the patient’s quality of life. An estimated 1 to 2% of the world’s population suffers from RA; this equates to approximately 5 million people in Europe. Arthritis in humans is a complex disease that may be caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental triggers. Scientists have suspected for some time that inflammasomes (protein complexes that form part of our immune system) play a role in the development and progression of RA. Prof. Dr. Lamkanfi and his team demonstrated that disease progression in a novel mouse model of RA was critically dependent on inflammasomes.

One of the processes accounted for by inflammasomes is the production of interleukin-1, a protein with an important role in inflammatory reactions. Stopping the effects of inflammasomes and interleukin-1 resulted in a cure for the mice. This is the first mouse model that puts genetic focus on the inflammasomes and lays the foundations for developing new treatments. Previous research has already demonstrated that other proteins in our immune system, such as TNF and IL-17, could possibly play a role in RA and medicines have been developed since to combat these proteins. This research results demonstrate that a further therapeutic option could be the blocking of the inflammasome (or the resulting IL-1).

Professor Mohamed Lamkanfi

Prof. Dr. Laurent Nguyen

Prof. Dr. Laurent Nguyen


Neurosciences/Psychiatry Award

25 000€

“Deciphering the cellular and molecular bases of human polymicrogyria”

The cerebral cortex corresponds to the external part of the brain and it plays key roles in sophisticated cognitive and perceptual abilities such as memory, awareness, language, and consciousness. The mature cerebral cortex is a layered structure resulting from the migration of temporal cohorts of neurons that are generated by cortical stem cells that divide during embryogenesis. Disrupting the birth, migration or survival of these neurons can lead to cortical malformations (MCDs) often associated with intellectual disabilities and epilepsy.

Prof. Dr. Laurent Nguyen (ULG) received the AstraZeneca Foundation Award 2014 in the research category Neurosciences and Psychiatry for the research on the pathological mechanisms triggered by the mutation of new genes associated with honopolymicrogyria. This research focuses on the cellular and molecular mechanisms that drive corticogenesis in health and disease. Current, additional research focuses on selected inheritable mutations that are tightly associated with polymicrogyria (PMGs), one prevalent MCD characterized by abnormal cortical layering with an excessive number of small and irregular gyri at the cortical surface. Various technical approaches and animal models will be combined to decipher the pathological mechanisms that underlie human PMGs. The identification of novel genes whose mutation lead to PMG is not only important for diagnosis and genetic counselling of patients and their families, but also for a better understanding of the molecular processes of cerebral cortical development.

Professor Laurent Nguyen

NS Approval ID 1009870 Revision date 09/2016